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There's something exciting about vinyl. CDs can sometimes be a little bit exciting. But does anyone get excited about downloads? No, they're just a means to an end.
I hate vinyl for its scratches, noise and distortion. But still I find that my ears prick up when I hear the needle go down followed by the phasey swish that precedes the music. And then the music has an edge to it that I have always loved since I first heard a record player (having been brought up in a vinylly-benighted family).
There's something physical about vinyl too. I can remember back to being 10 or 11 years old, playing with some friends who had found a broken record player, without a pickup arm. One friend proposed finding a record and trying to play it with a pin. "That will never work", was my thought. But I was astounded when it did. I thought it would have been far more complicated than that (I must have had a premonition of digital audio).
So when I heard of Kid Koala's cardboard turntable, I just had to get one for myself. It comes with the limited edition LP and CD versions of Kid's album 12 bit Blues. '12 bit' refers to the classic Emu SP1200 12-bit sampler that he used to put the music together, working largely from samples. (Now a cardboard SP1200 really would be something, but I guess the techies are still working on that.)
So take a look... Here is my short video of building the cardboard turntable and playing the flexidisc that comes with it...
Full marks to whoever created this turntable. It's a neat concept and the build is quite straightforward. The one problem I found was that the only needle I could find with a sharp enough point (the needle isn't included, I presume for legal reasons) wasn't heavy enough to achieve reliable tracking. So, having in the past observed DJs sticking 50p coins to the headshell for extra downforce, I taped a 1p coin just above the needle. And the result, well you can hear it for yourself.
The speech at the start is clearly audible, although notice how close the microphone had to be to achieve a decent level. The speech is followed by several sound clips that unfortunately come out rather random when the speed isn't precisely maintained, which I can tell you is rather tricky!
You know what? You don't even need the kit to make a cardboard turntable. You could make one out of an old cornflakes packet. If you do, please let us know and we will eagerly give you your 15 minutes of fame on Audio Masterclass.
12 bit Blues, the CD
The whole purpose of the cardboard turntable is of course to be a publicity gimmick. It isn't so much for consumers, but reviewers. I wanted to try out the cardboard turntable, so I listened to the CD too, and here I am writing about it to an audience of tens of thousands. The gimmick worked!
What I really like about this CD is the effort that has gone into the packaging. Buying a vinyl LP used to be an event. The whole experience from first seeing the artwork, opening the (perhaps) gatefold sleeve, feeling the texture of the sleeve (yes, some were textured), taking out the LP itself, scanning the label, placing it on the turntable and finally dropping the needle. Buying a CD, in comparison, is a rubbish experience. It's a commodity product in a nasty and horrible plastic jewel case. Whoever invented the standard CD packaging clearly had no respect for music lovers. The only thing that is ever good about CD packaging is the booklet. And how often is that good? Normally it's just there because there's a slot for it in the jewel case. No-one cares about it, it's just churned out in copywriting and design factories.
12 bit Blues, on the other hand has a crafted appearance. The people that made it clearly love their product, which is how things should be. The packing is all made from card. Clearly, card gets scuffed and degraded with use. But that would make a proud purchaser want to treat the work of an artist they admire with respect, and look after their CD. Everything here has the look and feel of quality and love.
The 24-page booklet is a shining example of what a booklet should be. In this case, we get to see Kid Koala's studio in fish-eye view. And many of the individual pieces of equipment used to make the album are described in detail, such as the Chamberlin Rhythmate, Maestro Rhythm King, Technics 1200, all with hand-drawn illustrations. Oh, there's a Universe Assman 640 too. Never heard of it? Well apparently you can record onto a magnetic disc, and then scratch your recording immediately. Try scratching your hard disk and see how far that gets you :-)
Now, the music...
I'm not a record reviewer, so I don't think I should be the person to recommend or disrecommend that you buy the CD on the basis of the quality of the music. You can hear snippets of the music at Ninja Tune. I am however a lover of recorded music, and I can hear the love that has been put into this production. I think that anyone interested in marketing their music should be interested in experiencing a well put-together product like this. You might find that the limited edition versions with the cardboard turntable have run out, but hey - you can make one for yourself from a cereal packet. Find a record to play on it and you're in business.
By the way, my own 'proper' turntable is automatic and it wouldn't play more than the first few seconds of the flexidisc. But thanks to the wonder of YouTube, you can hear the whole thing...